How to put it down on paper

by Brooke
(New York )

Question: I've been wanting to write a book for a while now and have multiple ideas for books. My problem is I can't figure out how to get my ideas from my head into a readable format. Any advice?


Answer: Yes. Practice.

It is normal to have some anxiety when facing a blank page. We want our writing to be perfect from the very first word until we type "The End." That desire can create a lot of pressure and performance anxiety.

But almost no one writes that way, just as no one plays piano brilliantly without having put in years of practice.

Often we have to start by writing a bad draft... or an outline... or just a collection of ideas. Or maybe you start by doing research and writing notes down on index cards.

The point is to get yourself engaged with the material by writing something. As you do this, the ideas will develop and take shape.

Maybe you're working on an outline when suddenly an idea for a scene pops into your head, so you take advantage of that and write just the one scene.

Later, you may decide that scene is garbage and throw it out, but by then your ideas will have developed further, the characters will have become more real, and you may have several more scenes written that you feel better about.

When your story is developed enough that your anxiety is less, you can write a first draft -- knowing that later you will revise it to make a better second draft.

Important tip: It's easier to revise than to write something from scratch.

What you hope for is that at some point the writing will just start to flow and the story that emerges will be fairly solid. For some writers, it takes a long time to get to that stage. For others, it's a matter of getting into the right state of mind.

You want to be focused and engaged with the ideas. It's almost like putting yourself into a hypnotic trance. When you're focused, any anxiety or doubt is set aside, freeing you to write.

Of course, we all want to be like the pulp writers of the 1940s and 1950s who could knock off a book a month and seldom revised. (They had to do this. They were being paid by the word.)

On the other hand, Harper Lee did quite well by writing just two books in 50 years. There's room for all types.

If your problem is self-disciple -- making the time to write or making yourself write in the time you've set aside -- you might consider joining or forming a writers group.

Assuming you have weekly meetings, have everyone in the group commit to writing something each week and sharing it at the meeting. This gives you some motivation because you don't want to bear the shame of being the person with nothing to share.

Best of luck.

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